A well written story tries to avoid just dumping
all the relevant information on the audience's lap. Whether it be The Hero
piecing together the villain's plot, each episode revealing a little more about The Verse
in which the work's set or the cast and their backstories being introduced one at a time. Some information is best just leaked rather than poured.
After a while, however, new characters might be introduced; maybe the cast need to welcome the Sixth Ranger
, or explain themselves to a Reasonable Authority Figure
or reporter. That's where this trope comes in handy; rather than just repeating everything that's been said to the audience the characters begin explaining and then the action cuts to when they've just finished. Stock Phrases
that indicate that this trope's about to appear include;
- "Well, it's a long story..."
- "I'll explain on the way." - Particularly just after The Cavalry pick someone up.
- "You won't believe what I've been through." - Often used at the end of a story (this might lead to a variation where the episode ends rather than cutting to a new scene).
- "Well, there you have it..." - Used after the cut.
- "And that's the whole story." - Another phrase used after the cut.
When the new scene begins, the characters listening to the explanation will usually repeat a few of the details, just to make it clear what's been explained to them (or possibly indicate that a few crucial details have been distorted).
Occasionally this trope will be used to keep the audience in the dark for an Unspoken Plan Guarantee
or The Unreveal
rather than to avoid wasting time repeating what they already know. It may be needed for a work to successfully make use of Show, Don't Tell
. Compare Answer Cut
, for when the cut jumps to
the explanation rather than past it. Contrast As You Know
and Viewers Are Goldfish
- This is used in Dragon Ball Z when Goku arrives on Namek for the first time. He finds Gohan, Krillin, and Vegeta beaten to a pulp. Krillin tries to explain what happened since they got there and instead, Goku places his hand on Krillin's head and reads his mind.
- Let's face it. Nobody wants to listen to Krillin.
- Played for laughs in A Bug's Life; Slim says that Flik can explain on the way. It then cuts to Flik finishing his explaination to...Tuck and Roll, who don't speak a word of English. This pretty much keeps the plot on track.
- Alfred Hitchcock's North By Northwest has this; when the hero is brought up to speed, we do not hear the exposition since we already know this stuff.
- The Jimmy Stewart version of The Man Who Knew Too Much plays with this. We see Stewart's character going through the theater talking to people, but don't hear what he says. Since we know what happened, it works just fine. (IRL, Hitchcock got rid of the dialogue because the audience wouldn't hear the orchestra's music.)
- Early in the Swedish comedy SOS the protagonists get stuck at sea on a barge loaded with trash. A friend of theirs spots them from her boat and asks what happened; we hear the start of their explanation ("It's completely absurd, actually...") before the movie fades to black with the text "17 minutes later", and then back to the end of the conversation.
- Brother Bear has a variant where one of the movie's songs plays over top of most of Kenai's story of what happened to Koda's mother. Not only does the audience already know, showing exactly Kenai explained it might have robbed some of the emotional impact.
- The novel Buddy (about a boy from a poor family who was named after Buddy Holly) has the protagonist give a first person version of this trope; it talks briefly about how he lets his friend explain everything and is too tired to correct the mistakes in it.
- Quoting Spike, from the first episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
Well, it all started when I was a cute little purple and green egg...
... and that's the story of my entire life. Well, up until today.
- Spoofed on an episode of Family Guy, where Peter comes up with a plan to stop students from using drugs at the Quahog high school. Peter is seen in the principal's office saying, "... and that's the plan." The principal points out that Peter never actually gave a plan but rather walked into his office and said this line.
- One episode of Jimmy Neutron, "Send in the Clones", has everyone asking Jimmy why they are all victims of something. Jimmy starts with "I Can Explain". however, the audience has already seen everything, so we get a brief clip of "4 hours later" and cut back to Jimmy wrapping up the story with "...and that's how it all happened".
- Just about every RPG does this, particularly when someone new joins the Player Party. Sometimes to their detriment, since console RPGs are often so long that the player forgets important plot elements from what he played as long ago as several days. Ones with a Heroic Mime, in particular, will use this to avoid showing The Hero actually talking.
- It's pretty much constant in the first parts of Breath of Fire IV. Nina explains the situation established in the opening cutscene to Ryu when they seek shelter in a cave for the night using this trope, then they explain things in the same way to Cray when they return to the crash site, then they explain things to the Woren elders when Cray is arrested.
- Happens periodically in Persona. Then again, "There are really two different worlds, persons X, Y and Z, are from that world 1, person A is from world 2, Big Bad is from world 1, etc." would be quite a mouthful to read every time the players chat up an NPC.